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Photography

How to Use Profiles in Adobe Lightroom

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Beginning with it's April 2018 release, Adobe started emphasizing a new feature in Lightroom, profiles, as part of the editing workflow. This was a feature that had previously mostly been reserved for very discerning photographers who wanted to precisely control raw processing.

What’s a Profile?

With the new release, profiles took center stage in the editing workflow. They were relocated to the top of the list of tools in the Develop module, and Adobe even introduced a way to download them right inside the app.

So, what's a profile? Should you be using them instead of other tools like presets?

Before we dive into learning about profiles, it helps to know a bit about how images are captured by your camera. You may have already heard of the raw image format that most cameras now have the option to shoot. 

Most photographers prefer to shoot in raw to leave more latitude in the editing process. If you shoot raw, you probably already know that the image files your camera captures are larger than their JPEG counterparts. That's because the sensor is actually capturing more information in a raw file than in a JPEG. 

Learn more about shooting in raw in the quick tutorial below:

When you record raw data from your sensor, you then need to interpret that digital data, processing it into a recognizable image. That's where profiles come into play. A profile is a way of interpreting the raw image data into a finished image.

The translation or development step between the raw and interpreted versions is largely driven by the camera profile you select. Even a camera that shoots in raw typically applies a default profile. If you've ever dug through your camera settings, you might have seen the option to choose between profiles like vivid, landscape, or neutral.

A profile isn't exactly an edit that's applied to the image. It's more of an interpretation in how the image should be translated from raw capture to the version you see on screen. You can choose between different profiles to change how that interpretation is handled. Let's learn how to do just that.

How Lightroom Uses Profiles

In a recent release of Lightroom, Adobe changed the name of this setting from "camera profiles" to simply Profiles. It's easy to select a different profile when working with an image to see how it changes the feel.

To change the profile, make sure that you're working in the Develop module. On the right side of Lightroom under the Basic panel, you'll see the Profile dropdown. You can choose from a number of profiles built into Lightroom to change the rendering of your raw image.

Select a profile Adobe Lightroom
Select a profile from the dropdown in the Basic panel to change the raw rendering of your image.

Adobe also added a browser that shows how profiles impact your image. Click on the four box icon to enter into the Profile Browser. Not only will it show the profiles we saw in the dropdown list above, but also additional creative styles in key categories like B&W, modern, artistic, and more.

Profile browser
The profile browser in Lightroom's Develop module can simulate how changing the profile will impact the look of your image. 

My first exposure to working with camera profiles was with advanced film simulation presets. Several companies that make Adobe Lightroom presets invested the time and effort into creating presets that, when paired with specific profiles, allow for very fine-tuned edits.

The idea here is the same: profiles can control lower level settings of the image that aren't accessible with standard tools. That's why they might be worth trying the next time you process a raw image.

Presets vs. Profiles

You're probably already familiar with Adobe Lightroom presetsthe one-click tools that totally overhaul the look and feel of an image. Many photographers start the creative process by applying a preset that changes the image. A preset can control practically any of the sliders that you see in Lightroom's Develop module.

But how do presets compare to profiles? Both are tools that change the appearance of an image. Should you use profiles, presets, or both?

In my mind, presets and profiles aren't competing tools. Again, you can think of a profile as an interpretation while presets are pure stylistic choices. However, Adobe is increasingly using profiles as creative styling tools, so it's also more difficult to think of the tools as completely separate. 

In short: you don't have to choose between using a profile and a preset. If you're accustomed to using Lightroom presets and have a healthy collection that you like to apply, I recommend choosing a neutral profile that offers a simple raw to JPEG transformation.

If you want to see examples of presets in action, check out any and all of the round-ups below:

A Shift in How Adobe Uses Profiles

Adobe hasn’t explicitly stated this, but many in the Lightroom community agree: Adobe is positioning profiles in a new way, beginning with the April 2018 Lightroom update. As mentioned, profiles were heavily emphasized and moved to the top of the panel in the Develop module.

Additionally, you can grab profiles from right inside the Adobe Lightroom app. Whereas presets are somewhat tricky to install and maintain, Adobe looks to want to "own" the profile ecosystem.

One of the reasons that Adobe appears to be shifting toward profiles as a way to ensure cross-compatibility between the versions of Adobe Lightroom. In 2017, Adobe forked Lightroom into two unique versions: Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC. In the mobile version of Lightroom, presets were tricky to impossible to install and use. Profiles, on the other hand, are easily supported.

Most importantly, I think that Adobe is positioning profiles as more adaptable than presets. Some presets just don't appear the way you'd expect. Because every image captures data differently and applies its own interpretation to images, presets don't always apply adjustments in the way you'd like. Profiles are more universal and predictable in how they style your images.

See profiles in action in Lightroom's latest version of Lightroom, focused on Lightroom CC:

Recap & Keep Learning

How are you working with Adobe Lightroom profiles? Have you explored them, or are you sticking with the tried and true presets you’ve accumulated? Let me know in the comments below.

Make sure to check out the tutorials and round-ups below to learn more about visual styling in Adobe Lightroom:

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